Pet owners everywhere love it when their little or large friends give love back. Who wouldn’t want snuggles from a cute puppy or to listen to the loving rumble of a cat’s purr? But what about tortoises – do they get attached to their owners? Are our scaly friends affectionate like a mammal or bird pet?
Do tortoises and turtles show affection? In their own way, pet tortoises or turtles show affection to their owner. Of course, tortoise and turtle affection is quite different than mammal affection. But they do use body language, scent, and sound to show some sort of affection and love.
Trying to figure out if your tortoise or turtle cares about you can be tricky. Reptiles show affection so differently than mammals, it’s hard for us to understand. Thankfully, you have us to help you break down some ways that our slow-moving, scaly friends show their affection. Bonus: we’ll show you how you can show your tortoise and turtle that you love him or her, too!
How Do Tortoises and Turtles Show Affection?
A tortoise or turtle won’t go running up to you and beg for pets or to cuddle. Instead, they will likely just sit in one place and be content with your presence. Turtles tend to do the same thing.
Turtles and tortoises like to watch their humans when they’re feeling affectionate. They may seem particularly interested in something you’re doing nearby.
A long, stretched out neck in your presence sometimes indicates a desire to be scratched or rubbed. This is a sure sign of affection when he leans into your touch and closes his eyes.
While they don’t jump up and down, tortoises and turtles do both get a little excited when you first enter the room, hoping you have some tasty treats. They may walk toward you or pace the enclosure to get your attention.
Tortoises may touch their nose to your hand or arm to show affection. This is a common behavior in the wild and is a social behavior.
A tortoise or turtle roaming the house or garden may show affection by following you around. They might bump against you for some pats or simply stay a few paces behind you. You can encourage this behavior by talking to her and showing her that you see her.
What Emotions or Feelings Do Tortoises and Turtles Feel?
Torts have a wide range of emotions, just like you do. While humans haven’t figured out all of the things tortoises and turtles think and feel, we have figured out a few.
Tortoises and Turtles Show Curiosity
A curious tortoise will likely be poking around and looking about its enclosure. She may be looking for something tasty to nibble on or just getting those steps in. A girl’s gotta keep up on that gorgeous figure after all.
Tortoises and Turtles Show Boredom
Bored tortoises and turtles may turn to destructive behaviors. They may overturn water dishes and food bowls, dig up plants, or try desperately to climb out of the cage. Get that tort some toys or a nice play session out of their enclosure!
Tortoises and Turtles Feel Friendship
As for feelings toward other tortoises, some species may enjoy having a friend, but that is up to the individual tortoise. Always do your research before adding cage-mates, though. Many species of tortoise like to live alone. And if you do have more than one tortoise in an enclosure, be sure to triple the space they are kept in. All tortoises are territorial and may not take too kindly to their buddy ruining the place.
Turtles however, can sometimes do better in small groups, usually up to two or three. But the same rule applies to them as it does with torts. When housing multiple turtles, triple your space. Since turtles are aquatic, this can be pricey. You may also need multiple or larger basking spots. And never put the guys with the girls, they just can’t help themselves.
Tortoises and Turtles Feel Jealousy
Jealousy is a powerful feeling, no matter your species. While reptile jealousy isn’t quite like human jealousy, it can result in the same kind of behaviors. This is mostly between males. Male tortoises and turtles likely won’t get along well with other males. This is especially true if there are females around, but is often just a case of manly reptile posturing.
What Other Emotions Do Tortoises and Turtles Show?
Like most living things tortoises and turtles will have a wide range of emotions that can be hard to define. Some of these feelings will be fear, joy, and anger.
For example, a scared tortoise will pull its head and limbs back into her shell. Some may even try to run! That’s pretty obvious the tort is scared, even to humans who don’t hide in a shell. Turtles will also pull back into their shell if scared or threatened. We will also hide, run or otherwise shrink back in fear. This is body language we can understand.
Some people wonder if these shelled creatures can feel pain. The answer is a resounding yes! They are capable of feeling both physical and emotional pain. We can see them wince when they are hurt, and feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief are painfully obvious.
Do Tortoises and Turtles Feel Love?
There is a debate among some reptile keepers on if our scaly friends can feel love. We personally like to think they are capable of feeling this emotion, but it’s hard to get a real answer from a tortoise or turtle.
If they show us affection, are interested in our activities, and show sadness or loneliness when we’re not around, that sure sounds like love to us! What do you think?
What Does a Happy Tortoise or Turtle Look Like?
A scared tortoise is recognizable. They obviously show fear by hiding or running away. But what about happy feelings? Tortoises don’t jump up and down, laugh, or smile, so how do we know they’re happy?
A tortoise who is content and happy will most likely just sit in one spot. His limbs and head will be relaxed and out of the shell. This is the typical ‘just chillin’ stance. Sometimes a content and happy tortoise may even go looking for their preferred human.
In some ways this is reminiscent of cats and how they show affection to their person. Of course, your tortoise or turtle won’t be kneading your leg and purring, but it’s no less adorable when they come to find you.
The bottom line is that a happy tortoise will be chilling out, basking, digging, or being out in the open. A happy turtle will be swimming, basking, munching on things, and being social. Both animals will hide if they’re scared or otherwise unhappy.
We wrote a detailed account in this article called “How to Tell if Your Tortoise is Happy and Healthy”.
Do Tortoises and Turtles Recognize Their Owners?
Yes, both tortoises and turtles can learn to recognize their caretakers. This does take time, but turtles and tortoises are very smart. They will learn your scent, sounds, and behaviors. They will come to associate you with food and safety.
When you enter the room, tortoises will look up and possibly come to you looking for treats or neck rubs, and turtles will swim excitedly back and forth in their tank for your attention.
These reactions vary on the individual however, and how much time you spend interacting with your tortoise or turtle. While this recognition grows over time, sometimes the tortoise or turtle will warm up to you quickly.
Do Tortoises and Turtles Bond with Humans?
This is a little tricky to answer. Humans are pack animals, so we like to form bonds with almost everyone and everything. It’s why so many people generally have dogs, since dogs too are pack animals. Even cats can be considered pack animals as long as they are in a close-knit group rather than a larger pack like canines.
Tortoises and most turtles are generally solitary animals. They naturally like their privacy. However, in captivity some tortoises do seem to express recognition of their owner, even fondness. Whether or not this is due to them associating us with food is unknown, but it is nice to imagine that your pet tortoise truly loves you and sees you as a safe place.
It would, of course, take a good deal of time for your tortoise or turtle to become this close to you. They are long-lived and purposeful creatures. Nothing is a rush for them. But if you are getting a tortoise, we would hope you planned on having a lifetime friend anyway. Trust us, it’s worth the wait for a sweet tortoise nose boop!
Granted, no pet should be a sudden decision. Do your research and then find that perfect companion. Tortoises, and some turtles live a long time, and so many begin to form a close bond with their human, but then are thrown out due to their larger size and specific needs. Tortoises need love too, so please do not make a rush decision.
That little painted turtle in the pet store can get quite large rather quickly.
Can a tortoise or turtle show affection? Yes, it can! Tortoises and turtles show affection in different ways than a human or dog would. Yet, both turtles and tortoises are definitely able to show affection or at least a preference when it comes to their human friends.
A tortoise may enjoy getting a nice neck rub from time to time and maybe even a lovely brushing of their shell. While it is not clear if this is a fluke or a tortoise trait, there are some reptile keepers who say their pet tortoise or turtle comes to them for affection. Tortoises and turtles are very intelligent, so it is not hard to believe that they can form bonds and love their owners.
As always, pay attention to the signs your tortoise or turtle gives you. As you grow to learn more about each other you will form a bond that could stand the test of time itself, just like the tortoise’s tough exterior.